Thursday, September 17, 2009

Paul Henry Promotion...YES!

Henry poised for bigger role at 7pm

TV One breakfast show host Paul Henry is poised to take a bigger role fronting Close Up.

Television sources say momentum is gathering for a change.

The debate is whether TVNZ will wait until Mark Sainsbury's employment contract runs out in late 2010 before making the move.

But it would be a risk. Sainsbury has appeal with viewers but is a weak interviewer.

Henry flies close to the wind in his interviews and takes chances that can provide good TV. But he polarises audiences.

In that sense he is a broadcaster's broadcaster and favoured by Close Up boss Mike Valintine and further up the TVNZ pecking order.

But Henry would also be a risk for TVNZ.

In March he humiliated a female news guest over facial hair.

A public broadcaster was rubbishing the way a guest looked for a laugh.

TVNZ upheld a complaint, but Henry wasn't embarrassed.

The bad attitude from the broadcaster's studio fortress illustrated the dangers when big egos misuse their power.

It came close to bullying.

Now he is up for promotion to prime time, the question will be whether he can manage his wish to shock.

Is he Paul Holmes without a self-deprecatory streak?

This week Henry declined to discuss speculation about his Close Up role, the state of the 7pm current affairs slot, or his acknowledged aspirations for Sainsbury's job.

Asked if the "lady with a moustache" incident indicated he was not up to the prime time spot, Henry said: "You cater for the show you are on, but I am always me. I walk on that fine line, but to me that fine line is the place to be."


A former TVNZ head of programming once told me that the secret of an X-factor TV star was that viewers either wanted to hit them or hug them (or words to that effect). In other words they should elicit a strong emotional response.

Henry acknowledges he polarises opinion and says that the days are gone when broadcasters are overly concerned about polarising people.

But bringing in Henry will be the subject of extensive market research.

In August last year Henry told this column: "It is no secret I have ambitions [to present Close Up].

"Seven o'clock is where I want to be."

TVNZ did not take the bait. In a recent Sunday Star-Times interview he was ambivalent about the Close Up role. It is a handy "I can take it or leave it" stance after missing out last time, and now being courted by TVNZ with the prospect of pay negotiations ahead.

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